Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton put Mercedes atop practices at Imola as Red Bull struggles

Bottas Hamilton Imola practice
Clive Mason - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

IMOLA, Italy — Mercedes topped both practice sessions with Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix as Red Bull endured a torrid day on Friday at the Imola circuit.

Red Bull was favored heading to Imola, but the fortunes swung in Mercedes’ favor as the reigning championship team managed a one-two in both practices while its rival finished each session with just one driver.

Bottas was fastest in both, edging Hamilton by just 0.010 seconds in the second practice and 0.041 in the first.

“The weekend has started in a positive way, I’m much happier with the balance of the car,” Bottas said. “The car feels better, we still have the same type of issues as in Bahrain but less so.

“Still not perfect but we are only on event two out of 23 this season so hopefully we have time to fix it … We still don’t think we are the fastest car and we really need to improve on that on Saturday.”

Pierre Gasly, who briefly separated the two Mercedes drivers, was 0.078 slower than Bottas in the second practice.

It is his AlphaTauri team’s home race, with its Faenza base located 15 kilometers from the track

“The team has worked really hard to try and understand what happened at the last race, where we were weak and how we could tweak the setup, but the track has come to our direction too,” Hamilton said.

“We have good pace but we have not seen the best from Red Bull yet because they have had messy sessions. It will be interesting to see tomorrow how quick they are.”

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, who looks set to be Hamilton’s closest rival this season, had a problem with his car early in the second practice and his session ended abruptly 10 minutes in.

“It looks like the driveshaft has given away. We’re just trying to understand what has happened,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said.

“We will be inspecting all the other parts as well. The curbs are pretty aggressive here so we just need to understand what has happened.”

Verstappen had been third fastest in the morning, 0.058 behind Bottas.

It was the latest in a long run of bad luck for the 23-year-old in Italy. Verstappen never has finished an F1 race in the country higher than fifth and retired in all three events last year at Monza, Mugello and Imola.

“I like Italy, the food is good and I enjoy being here but the driving part is not the luckiest,” Verstappen said. “We just have to look at what we can do better tomorrow.

“Of course it would have been better to have the session but I don’t think missing running in FP2 is the end of the world as we know what we need to do tomorrow. We just have to focus on ourselves and make sure we get the best out of our package.”

Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez failed to finish the morning practice after an incident with Esteban Ocon heading into the Villeneuve chicane.

The rear left tire of Perez’s car was ripped off and the front of Ocon’s Alpine suffered heavy damage after the pair came together.

That led to a temporary suspension of the session with about 22 minutes left. The red flags came out again shortly after the end of the session as Nikita Mazepin spun off and crashed into the barriers at the pit lane exit.

There were more red flags in the afternoon forcing the session to come to a premature end, approximately four minutes before schedule, after Charles Leclerc crashed his Ferrari into the barriers.

The Ferrari drivers, Carlos Sainz and Leclerc, completed the top five in second practice. There was less than one second separating first and ninth.

There is a third and final practice session on Saturday ahead of qualifying.

The Emilia-Romagna GP is the second race of the F1 season. Hamilton won the opener in Bahrain last month, just ahead of Verstappen after a thrilling duel.

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.